Initial doc from Jamie Benning’s Star Wars trilogy is, not surprisingly, the weakest.
From the menu design to long stretches with no extras.
This installment, while extremely interesting, pales next to Begins and Building Empire.
Video - Thoughtful layering of stills, sketches, models, as well as behind the scenes footage and deleted scenes. With so many sources, it is unfair to expect razor video quality throughout. Some of the extras are blurry, others are marred by rapid camera movement. Nevertheless, narrative coherence is maintained and nothing is too flawed. Indeed, some of the more damaged materials are the most interesting, and I am glad the editor included them.
Audio - Reads 5.1, but much of the original material is Dolby 2 or simple stereo. Everything and every one is discernable, though. As noted in another review, Harrison Ford has a tendency to mumble. More in the later (2004) commentaries than in the earlier (1984 >). Not a problem, just noticeable. No dialogue subs, only info subs.
Narrative - As noted, there are several stretches where this are no “documentary” elements. Only the movie rolling along. Difficult to gauge whether there was a lack of supplemental material for those sections or if this was editor neglect. One point becomes clear - Lucas did not have a clear vision for Jedi. Much of the time he seemed to be winging it, trusting in serendipity rather than a focused script.
Enjoyment - Extremely mixed bag here. I bitterly recall the disappointment viewing this theatrically. After the first two installments, after viewing the trailer for this, everyone was so pumped. Jedi was such a massive let down. I rewatched at the theater - hoping. Terrible. Latex characters, Boba Fett’s absurd demise, Luke’s inabilities. When I eventually bought the discs Jedi was worse than I remembered. It’s like Lucas dialed back the adult themes and delivered a kiddie film, complete with a teddy bear party.
Extras in this doc are minimal. Cause could stem from the fact that the Star Wars phenomenon had peaked. The mania had passed. I well remember how quickly the first two radio installments were released, and how Jedi came out a full decade later. (Note - To the best of my knowledge, the prequels never had a radio series, never boasted the plethora of behind the scenes footage, only lots of toy merchandising.)
Hearing the doc one soon realizes that producers knew Jedi might well displease. Expectations were skyhigh. Listening to comments, Lucas’s vision was second-guessed, the directions he went were not understood - then and now. This doc is informative, yet cringe-inducing, seeing error after error committed. Also, there is an “end of vacation” vibe from all narrators. “Loved doing this, but tired of it and wanna move along.”
No matter the failures of the original film, Benning’s documentary is whole heartedly recommended. This is a must for Star Wars fans. In so many ways, this is a better experience than the original. Thank you, Mr Bennng, for persevering with this and sharing with the world. Fans everywhere are in your debt.
In 2007, Jambe Davdar made this sequel documentary to his "Building Empire", released the year before. It uses the same style of running commentary as I described in my review for that work: https://ifdb.fanedit.org/building-empire/reviews/?user=34747
This time, the editor covers The Return of the Jedi, which offers a nice contrast in terms of the tone of the interviews. He includes material which reflects on them coming back, now confidant that the success of these films was not a one-off, now free from the pressure of having to follow-up one of the biggest smash films of all time. They're really having FUN on set, and they're also genuinely committed to their characters and the material.
I wrote more about how specifically this "film-umentary" (a phrase the editor now coined) deals with RotJ and what it reveals about it here: https://boxd.it/2OBosN For me, the big discovery/takeaway from this though was in a lost scene right after Jabba's palace that is pieced together here. It would've been a great inclusion, and seems almost necessary in retrospect. This doc does seem to go on asides like this a bit longer than the previous one, resulting in it being a much longer film. It's got a bit more information in it, too. While the editor still seems to favor the setup and early formation of the film and has less to add about the latter stages, there aren't quite as many spaces here where the film just plays as normal.
Overall, another great way to rewatch for a Star Wars fan!
Pretty much everything I said in my Building Empire review stands here. The only difference is there were no video or audio glitches. Wonderful commentary/documentary on Return of the Jedi, and definitely a must see by any Star Wars fan.